The American kit tradition I would love to see in the Premier League

The NFL kicks off this week, and as I enjoy its return I’m going to be thinking about one thing in particular...

The American kit tradition I would love to see in the Premier League

I’m a big fan of the NFL.

For 10+ years I’ve been fascinated with the sport and, I’m sure like many of you reading now, if I’m watching a sport I’m paying attention to the kits (or jerseys, or uniforms, etc.).

NFL uniforms are, at first glance, not the most interesting in terms of design. In truth though there is a tonne of attention paid to every detail of an NFL jersey (just look at this article from Paul Lukas aka @UniWatch, a personal hero of mine), and from a league-wide standpoint the focus on uniforms has led to some interesting situations over the years.

Few sports are as big on ‘throwback uniforms’ as the NFL, and on occasion we have seen everything from one-off uniforms to full ‘throwback weeks’ involving every team in the league.

The NFL’s liberal use of old-school looks is an approach which I’d argue would benefit the Premier League, and though there are some hurdles to overcome, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something very similar implemented in the near future...

Rose-tinted glasses

So what exactly are throwback uniforms or ‘throwbacks’?

Like Ronseal, throwbacks do exactly what they says on the tin, but it’s worth noting just how far NFL teams go to recreate designs from years gone by. Take the Green Bay Packers for example, whose standard green and yellow getups have at times been replaced by uniforms with colour palettes like yellow, blue and beige. The changes extend to things like the style and sizing of the numbers too, along with the placement of branding elements and the use of team logos.

green bay packers uniforms
Green Bay as you'd expect to see them. Image from Mike Morbeck - Flickr.
green bay packers throwback
The Packers unusual but charming retro uniforms. Image from Wikipedia.

In other situations teams may revert back to classic shades of their famous colours, like the Philadelphia Eagles who occasionally wear “kelly green” throwbacks in contrast to their usually much darker “midnight green” kits.

From founding league members to relatively new franchises, everyone will usually get in on the act at some point during the season. In the past, the NFL has even introduced ‘Legacy Weekends’, where all teams would wear retro designs at the same time. The matchups that these weeks created was, as you can imagine, a lot of fun, and it’s something which I would love to see in the Premier League.

Allow me to get carried away for a second.

It’s Boxing Day, and Leicester welcome high-flying Liverpool to the King Power. The Foxes are kitted out in a gorgeous black shirt, which features a thin, light blue sash running from left to right. Visitors Liverpool run out the tunnel in a half-and-half white and blue top, complete with darker blue shorts and socks. It’s an unfamiliar but aesthetically pleasing match, a chance for fans both young and old to celebrate the history of their clubs through the medium of kits.

1900s football kit
Coming to a ground near you? Image from Wikipedia.

Elsewhere that day, a dogged Southampton side are looking to leapfrog Chelsea in the table. Though they continue to play in their familiar red and white, The Saints wear a delightful sash kit which is free from any unnecessary distractions. Hosts Chelsea play in a shirt that’s more unfamiliar but equally classy; a plain, pale green number that bears resemblance to their first kits from 1905.

These situations are replicated across the country, leading to the most traditional, retro-looking Match of the Day in history.

Is it even possible?

There are several elephants in the room when any suggestion of a ‘throwback week’ is brought up.

These sorts of ‘one-off weeks’ work well in the NFL because all teams work with the same kit manufacturer. It’s one thing to work with just adidas or Nike to try and coordinate a launch of special kits, but the Premier League faces a real headache having to deal with 8 different manufacturers.

I would suggest though that any issues can be mitigated by making sure a designated ‘throwback week’ was introduced deep into the season, potentially after Christmas.

Even the smallest of brands have now become used to releasing fourth or special kits late in the season, and if the timings were right brands could begin planning for these one-off retro kits during the same cycle as other match kits, yet with the added bonus of a much later release schedule. From a sales perspective too, the introduction of a strong kit in the new year would be like a January transfer window signing for the sales department.

The other biggest question is usually around sponsorship. Why would sponsors ever agree to sacrifice their position on a kit even for just one week, given the mammoth investment that accompanies any Premier League sponsorship package?

manchester city 2009
A truly considerate sponsor. Image from Classic Football Shirts.

In my opinion the best solution involves the art of compromise. Sponsors have every right to feature on a team’s shirt given the figures involved, but with tweaks to things like colour, sizing and placement, retro shirts can retain a classic look whilst still featuring a relatively innocuous sponsor.

Think of something like Man City’s sash kit during the Umbro years. The small Etihad logo (which sat neatly underneath the crest) was clearly identifiable, yet it’s considered size and placement helped create one of the best kits of the Premier League era. Though it’s virtually impossible to measure, the goodwill that a company would receive as a result of being willing and able to adapt their usual position would arguably far outweigh just one more week of typical exposure.

Is it even a good thing?

I wouldn’t blame you if anything I’ve said up to this point has actually put you off the idea more than when you started reading.

Retro kits are a hot topic in the football shirt community at the moment, and many people are openly questioning whether we’re getting too much of a good thing in regards to designs that are inspired by shirts of the past.

A designated ‘throwback week’ would instead create something of a ‘best of both’ scenario however. Fans who enjoy old designs can be treated to a celebration of traditional looks, whilst for the rest of the season we can continue to (hopefully) see innovation and creativity in a way which moves the industry forward, rather than always looking back.

The sort of creativity we wouldn't want to miss. Image from Nike.

Another way to really make the most of a one-off week would be to involve several charities. Despite more significant business-related hurdles, could clubs make sure that 10% of every sale of a throwback shirt goes to a local charity of their choice? Perhaps national charities could be widely promoted during the throwback week, to capitalise on the added interest?

I acknowledge that I’m a liberal when it comes to kits, and of course many fans are decidedly more conservative; longing for the days when a home kit was kept for multiple seasons. The introduction of third, fourth and even fifth kits is to many like the beginning of the end times, so the idea of yet another kit to add to the rotation is like the final nail in the coffin.

The days of only wearing your away kit when you absolutely had to are long gone however, and if we’re going to make the most of the current climate, we might as well try and move things forward in a way which everyone can appreciate (even if our bank accounts disagree).

new york jets uniforms
The New York Jets before their recent rebrand. Image from MarineCorps NewYork - Flickr.
new york jets throwback
The Jets remembering when they used to be called the Titans. Image from Wikipedia.

At this interesting juncture for football shirts, I believe the answer lies in the land where Broncos do battle with Chiefs, and where Eagles tussle with Giants.

Throwback weeks are coming. You heard it here first.

Grab a brew, and let's talk about subliminal geometric patterns.